Skip to content

High School Admission Essay Prompts

As a part of the application process, applicants must complete a personal essay. Additionally, Penn applicants must complete the Penn-specific Essay.  

We carefully read each essay you submit, as they can help us get to know you much better than your transcripts and test scores. While essays are a good indication of how well you write, they are also windows into how you think, what you value, and how you see the world. Your numbers tell us what kind of student you are. Your essays tell us what sort of person you are—and provide a glimpse into the intangibles you might bring to our community. 

Be sure to answer the question or questions that are being asked of you. We understand that you may be writing essays for different schools and you may be looking to reuse material, but read through your essay to make sure your essay is relevant to the essay prompt.  Essay topics are chosen because the Admissions Committee wants to know these specific things about you. If you do not address the question directly, the Admissions Committee is left with having to make decisions regarding your application with incomplete information. 

Students applying to Penn must submit their application for admission to one of our four undergraduate schools. In the Penn-specific Essay, be sure to specifically address both why you are applying to Penn and why you are applying to that specific undergraduate school. Students who are applying to one of our coordinated dual-degree programs will have additional essays they need to complete, but the Penn essay should address the single-degree or single-school choice.

  • Penn-specific Essay

    How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying. (400-650 words) *Students applying to Digital Media Design and Computer & Cognitive Science should address both the specialized program and single-degree choice in their response. For students applying to the other coordinated dual-degree and specialized programs, please answer this question in regards to your single-degree school choice; your interest in the coordinated dual-degree or specialized program may be addressed through the program-specific essay.

  • Huntsman: The Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business

    Discuss a current international issue, which demonstrates how international affairs and business intersect and explain how the Huntsman curriculum might assist to resolve the issue. (500 words maximum)

  • LSM: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management

    LSM seeks students who are enthusiastic about combining science with management. What excites you about this combination? What kind of benefits could an individual trained in both disciplines bring to society? Be as specific and original as possible in addressing these questions. (400-650 words)

  • M&T: The Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology

    Please complete both prompts. Question 1: Explain how you will use this program to explore your interest in business, engineering, and the intersection of the two. It is helpful to identify potential engineering and business paths available at Penn. (400-650 words) Question 2: Please describe a time in which you displayed leadership. (250 words maximum)

  • NHCM: Nursing and Healthcare Management

    Discuss your interest in nursing and health care management. How might Penn's coordinated dual-degree program in nursing and business help you meet your goals? (400-650 words)

  • VIPER: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research

    Describe your interests in energy science and technology drawing on your previous academic, research, and extracurricular experiences that allow you to appreciate the scientific or engineering challenges related to energy and sustainability. If you have previous experience with research, describe your research project (outlining the goals, hypotheses, approach, results, and conclusions). Describe how your experiences have shaped your research and interests, and identify how the VIPER program will help you achieve your goals. Also, please indicate which VIPER majors in both science and engineering are most interesting to you at this time. (400-650 words)

  • NETS: The Rajendra and Neera Singh Program in Networked and Social Systems Engineering

    Describe your interests in modern networked information systems and technologies, such as the Internet, and their impact on society, whether in terms of economics, communication, or the creation of beneficial content for society. Feel free to draw on examples from your own experiences as a user, developer, or student of technology. (400-650 words)

  • Seven-Year Bio-Dental Program

    • Please list pre-dental or pre-medical experience. This experience can include but is not limited to observation in a private practice, dental clinic, or hospital setting; dental assisting; dental laboratory work; dental or medical research, etc. Please include time allotted to each activity, dates of attendance, location, and description of your experience. If you do not have any pre-dental or pre-medical experience, please indicate what you have done that led you to your decision to enter dentistry. • List any activities which demonstrate your ability to work with your hands. • What activities have you performed that demonstrate your ability to work cooperatively with people? • Please explain your reasons for selecting a career in dentistry. Please include what interests you the most in dentistry as well as what interests you the least. • Do you have relatives who are dentists or are in dental school? If so, indicate the name of each relative, his/her relationship to you, the school attended, and the dates attended.

The Common Application has announced that the 2018-2019 personal essay writing prompts will be the same as the seven 2017-2018 essay prompts. By conducting a review process every other year, rather than annually, we can hear from admissions officers, as well as applicants, parents, and counselors, about the effectiveness of the essay prompts. 

With the announcement of the essay prompts and the ability for applicants to roll over their Common App account each year, counselors can introduce their juniors to the Common App now to help them start thinking about the application process. For more information, go to Common App Ready, a series of ready-to-use resources, presentations, training videos, and handouts covering everything from account creation through submission. Last year, we expanded this free tool with Spanish language translations. 

2018-2019 Common Application Essay Prompts

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. 

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? 

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? 

4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. 

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? 

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. 

The most popular essay prompt of the 2017-2018 application year (through January 5, 2018) is "Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth..." (23.6%), followed by the topic of your choice option (22.5%), and "Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful..." (21.4%). 

"Through the Common App essay prompts, we want to give all applicants - regardless of background or access to counseling - the opportunity to share their voice with colleges. Every applicant has a unique story. The essay helps bring that story to life," said Meredith Lombardi, Associate Director, Outreach and Education, for The Common Application.